Category Archives: Pauline Kael

Hollywood Is the Only Place Where You Can Die of Encouragement

Dorothy Parker? Pauline Kael?

Dear Quote Investigator: The decision to greenlight a movie in Hollywood is complicated and protracted. Those eager to make films experience a mixture of encouragement, uncertainty, delays, and heartbreak. Here are two versions of a germane witticism:

  • Hollywood is the one place on earth where you could die of encouragement.
  • Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement.

These words have been credited to author Dorothy Parker and movie critic Pauline Kael. Would you please determine the correct ascription?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker who died in 1967 crafted this line.

In 1980 Pauline Kael published a piece in “The New Yorker” titled “Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers”. Many people in the movie business have the power to say no to a nascent project. Individuals at the top of the studio hierarchy can say yes, but they are cautious: 1

They postpone decisions because they’re fearful, and also because they don’t mind keeping someone dangling while his creative excitement dries up and all the motor drive goes out of his proposal. They don’t mind keeping people waiting, because it makes them feel more powerful.

Kael named some executives who were willing push projects forward with alacrity. Yet, she stated that definitive responses were uncommon. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

But most of the ones who could say yes don’t; they consider it and string you along. (Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement.) For the supplicant, it’s a matter of weeks, months, years, waiting for meetings at which he can beg permission to do what he was, at the start, eager to do.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1980 June 23, The New Yorker, The Current Cinema: Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers by Pauline Kael, Start Page 82, Quote Page 88, The New Yorker Magazine Inc., New York. (Archive of The New Yorker at archives.newyorker.com)